It is common practice to base a discussion of the N.T. use of 'aion' upon some
association with the Rabbinic concepts of 'this age' and 'the coming age'. This is a
useful starting point for it shows that by N.T. times the concept of recognizable periods
with distinguishing characteristics had become established in Hebrew thinking and,
although the earliest proven occurrence of the above expressions in Rabbinic writings
belongs late in the first century A.D., the frequency of N.T. references to 'this aeon',
'the present aeon', 'that aeon', 'the coming aeon' indicates that the idea of one age
giving place to another was common in both Judaic and Christian thought. An important
question is to determine what events or developments were regarded as bringing about or
indicating the change over from 'this aeon' to 'the coming aeon'.
In Rabbinic works the advent of Israel's long awaited Messiah forms the disjunctive
point, and therefore may biblical scholars and students have argued that since Christians
hold that Jesus was in fact the Messiah, the Christ event formed the demarcation between
'this age' and 'the age to come'.
Now the concept of the messianic advent and associated developments took definite shape
and became invested with urgent expectation during the inter-testamental period. The
Qumran scrolls provide much evidence of the Messiah(s) upon the sect's religious theory
and conduct. Also the utterances of Simeon and Anna recorded in Luke 2, indicate the state
of expectancy existing in devout Jewish circles at the time of the birth of Jesus.
Little definite material can be found in the O.T. itself to show what characteristics
were anticipated in the Messiah. The 'Deliverer who should come out of Zion and turn away
ungodliness from Jacob' (Isa.59:20,21 quoted in Rom.11:26) appears to have to have been
envisaged as an ideal king who would establish Israel as the supreme terrestrial race in a
kingdom without end. This concept is expressed in Luke 1:32,33, which contains ideas from
II Sam.7:11-13 and 16; Psa.89:4; 132:11; Isa.9:6,7; and 16:5. Looking back with
hind-sight, N.T. writers and Bible students ever since have linked up many O.T. passages
and even isolated sentences with the person and work of Jesus; but that the O.T. authors
or their pre-Christian readers regarded many of such statements as applying to the Messiah
seems doubtful. Probably the establishment of Israel as a people faithful to their God in
a kingdom holding world-wide sway, formed the most important ingredient in the Messianic
hope. The disciples' question in Acts 1:6 accords with this view.
Of course the Rabbis did not regard the first advent of our Lord as the disjunctive
episode between the two ages, but since the N.T. writers regarded Jesus as the promised
Messiah, the question arises whether they believed his birth, life, death, and
resurrection actually and completely fulfilled the O.T. prophecies on which the Rabbinic
expectations were based, and hence the then 'present age' closed with his birth and 'the
coming age' opened with say Pentecost so that the whole Christ event formed a transition
period between the two ages.
For an answer we turn to a study of the N.T. usage of the word 'aion' and its
derivatives. Respecting 'this aeon' it should be noted that Jesus is recorded as using the
phrases 'in this aeon', 'in the coming aeon' and sons 'of this aeon' (Matt.12:32, Mark
10:30 and Luke 16:8; 18:30, 20:34 and 35) but the great majority of occurrences are in the
Pauline letters. (Rom.12:2, I Cor.1:20; 2:6,8; 3:18, II Cor.4:4, Gal.1:4, Eph.1:21; 2:2,
II Tim.4:10, Tit.2:12). The only other case is in Heb.6:5. In popular versions translators
have frequently used the word 'world' to render 'aion', thus deleting the time reference
inherent in the original Greek term.
Now in determining the location of the demarcation between 'this aeon' and 'the coming
aeon' Luke 20:34,35 provides a definite indication.
"the sons of this aeon marry and are given in marriage, but they that are counted
worthy to attain to that aeon and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry or are
given in marriage.'
The whole passage - verses 27 to 36, is concerned with the future resurrection. This
climacteric event was future then, when Paul wrote I Cor.15, and when the Apocalypse was
written. The stern warning in II Tim.2:18 against 'men who concerning the truth have erred
saying that (the) resurrection is past already', shows that even in those early Christian
days there were individuals who imposed their own ideas about the timing of this important
event, upon the apostle's teaching and 'overthrew the faith of some'.
The unique importance of the future resurrection and its associated events and
developments as the episode which will mark the division between 'this age' and 'the
coming age' will become increasingly evident as we record the characteristics of each of
these early periods.
Regarding 'this aeon' we note the following points:-
A. Once it is seen that the N.T. writers regard the end of 'this aeon' as future still
and marked by the resurrection and Christ's second advent, there is no major clash between
their timing and that of the Rabbis. Unless the student of the Bible is prepared to
allegorize and spiritualize the bulk of the predictive prophecies, he must soon realize
that the greater part of these refer to a still future presence and work of the Messiah
King. With this view the Rabbinic writers agree but do not identify the Coming One with
B. The characteristics of 'this aeon' are clearly stated in various N.T. passages.
1. It is a period of anxieties.
Mark 4:19, 'And the cares (or anxieties) of the aeon...choke the word'.
2. During 'this aeon' the good seed and the bad grow together till the consummation of the age.
Matt.13:24-30 and 36-43. Verse 39, 'The harvest is the end of (the) age.' Verse 40, 'Thus it will be at the end of the age'.
3. Believers are called to non-conformity with the patterns of this age. Rom.12:2, 'Be not conformed to this aeon'.
Titus 2:11 and 12, 'The grace of God bringing salvation for all hath shone forth putting us under discipline so that...in a sober minded, righteous, and Godly manner we should live in this present age'.
4. The rulers of this aeon crucified the Lord of Glory.
I Cor.2:8 refers to a sacred secret 'which none of the rulers of this aeon know or would not have crucified the Lord'.
5. 'The god of this aeon blinds unbelievers respecting the evangel of the glory of Christ.' II Cor.4:4
6. It is an evil aeon.
Gal.1:4, 'Our Lord Jesus Christ (who) gave himself for our sins that he might deliver us out of this present evil aeon'.
7. 'The sons of this age marry'. Luke 20:34
In contrast, 'the coming age' will see significant changes.
1. The resurrection from the dead.
Luke 20:35, 'Those deemed worth to obtain that aeon and that resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are
given in marriage'.
2. The bestowal of aeonian life.
Mark 10:30. Those who in this life forsake all for Christ will receive 'in the age to come, aeonian life'.
3. 'The forth-shining of the glory of he Great God and our Saviour.' Titus 2:12 and 13.
4. The forth-shining of the righteous in their Father's kingdom. Matt.13:39-43. Verse 39 (b), 'The harvest is the end (consummation) of (the) age'. Verse 40 (b), 'Thus shall it be at the end of the age'. Many manuscripts have 'end of this age'. Verse 43, 'Then the righteous shall shine forth in the kingdom of their Father'.
5. 'Those counted worthy to obtain 'that aeon' do not marry, but are 'as the angels', Luke 20:35 and 36.
6. A foretaste of the powers of the coming age had been, experienced by some folk in N.T. times.
Hebrews 6:5. Some had 'tasted the powers of the coming age'.
From this analysis it appears obvious that in the N.T. there exists a very definite
contrast between 'this present evil age' and the glories of 'the age to come', a contrast
also prominent in Rabbinic thought, and in more nebulous form in parts of the O.T.
It may be noted here that whatever may be held regarding the duration of the coming
aeon or aeons (Eph.2:7) the N.T. view of the present age is that it will come to an end.
The phrase 'end of the aeon/ will now be considered.
The Authorized Version, 1611, by invariably mis- translating this phrase is 'end of the
world', has produced a great deal of confusion respecting predictive prophecy regarding
the future. To a lesser but still significant degree the R.V. (1881) and the A.S.R.V.
(1901) have followed the same pattern. Three Greek words have thus become confused in
English versions - 'aion' a time period, 'kosmos' the world of humanity (John 3:16,
Rom.3:6, Rev.11:15 and 166 other N.T. cases) and 'ge' the physical earth. (II Pet.3:5-15).
If for 'end of an age or this age', we read 'end of the world' we are apt to think of some
catastrophic destruction of 'the earth' at doomsday. The N.T. inspired writers were not
guilty of such loose, imprecise use of language, nor should we be.
Obviously if 'the world' should come to an end either (a) no further terrestrial life
and development could go on (that is if we mean 'end of the earth') or (b) the human race
will have concluded its career (if we mean 'humanity'). The scriptures repeatedly refer to
the end (in some cases 'consummation') of 'an age', 'the age' or 'this age' but not to the
end of the world.
In the Authorized (1611) and R.V. (1881) Matt.24:3 is translated, 'What shall be the
sign of thy coming (Gr. parousia presence) and the end of the world?' and Eph. 3:21, 'To
whom be glory world without end'. The contradiction in the English versions does not exist
in the originals where 'aion' and its plural occur and if we render the texts accurately
using 'aeon' and 'aeons' or 'age' and 'ages' no problem arises in English.
Further it should be noted that the phrase 'end of the aeon' occurs in Matthew only,
and may possibly have been du to Rabbinic influence, but the use of the plural or an
expression that demands plurality ('this aeon' and 'the coming aeon') in more than two
third of the occurrences of 'aion' prove that several aeons were envisaged. Since one
'aeon' must follow another we cannot accept 'eternity' as a meaning for this Greek word.
Now by far the greater number of cases of the use of the singular 'aion' are in phrases
of which the commonest is 'into, unto or for the aeon' (eis ton aiona). The first example
is in Matt.21:19 with regard to the barren fig tree, 'May no fruit grow on thee 'eis ton
Here the meaning may be simply 'not at all' or 'not any more'. but as our Lord's
miracles were signs (John 20:30) and hence to be interpreted symbolically, the barren fig
may well be representative of Israel to whom the Messiah came (John 1:11) and was
rejected. The nation was then, and has ever since been barren, withered, insensitive.
(Isa.6:9, Matt. 13:13-15, John 12:37-41, Acts 28:26 and 27, cf. Luke 13:6-8.) But
restoration is promised when 'the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled (filled ful, Luke
21:24) when 'the complement of the Gentiles' be come in (Rom.11:25 and 26) and thus, by
'the Deliverer coming forth out of Zion to turn away ungodliness from Jacob, all Israel
shall be saved'.
Unless there be some symbolic meaning, the cursing of the fig must be regarded as a
rather meaningless and frivolous exhibition of power. If the figurative symbolism is
accepted 'unto or for the age' becomes literally pertinent, and the 'curse' or rejection
of Israel will be reversed and 'the new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of
Jacob' will become operative at the end of the period of insensitivity as predicted by
Jer.31:31, Rom. 11:27 and Heb.8:8-12.
This symbolic interpretation is consistent with Eastern thought patterns and the rest
of biblical predictions and promises for Israel, and is commenced here with consequent
acceptance of 'for the age' rather than 'for ever'. "Eternity' is out of the
question. 'Let no fruit grow on thee for duration without beginning or ending' has only to
be stated to show its inapplicability. Mark 11:14 recounts the same incident.
Luke 1:55 is important. The concluding verse of the Magnificat speaks of Yahweh's care
for Israel, 'He hath supported Israel his servant (or child) to be mindful of mercies,
according as he spake unto our fathers to Abraham and his seed 'to or during an age'. The
A.V. and R.V. have 'for ever' but that is obviously incorrect especially as this question
from the O.T. in Micah 7:20 reads 'Thou wilt give the truth to Jacob, the mercy to Abraham
which thou hast sworn unto our fathers from days of old'.
From this it would appear that the Hebrew phrase in Micah, 'from days of old', would
form an excellent paraphrase for the concluding phrases in Luke 1:55.
In John's gospel there are seven cases where 'always' and 'never' may serve to render
the phrase 'unto or for the aeon', provided these terms are not taken to imply eternity.
John 4:14 reads, 'Whosoever will drink of the water that I shall give him in no wise
shall thirst unto or for the age, but the water...will become in him a fountain springing
up unto life aeonian'. The Samaritan woman's error of taking 'water' literally should not
be ours; but read in the light John 7:39, we may understand the 'water that I shall give
him' to mean the gift of the Spirit which at the time had not yet been given. An
understanding of the doctrine of the Spirit in John leads to an appreciation of the
appropriateness of 'unto or for the age' in John 4:14. The gift of God's Spirit was
contingent upon the departure of Jesus and his later return. In the interim period of his
absence the Spirit's consoling presence will abide with his followers, but in the promised
reunion presence of their Lord, no such consoling representative activity of the Spirit
could be needed. Hence if taken literally 'unto or for the age' seems fitting, but to
force 'eternity' or even 'for ever' or 'everlasting' into these passages would make it
appear that the Comforter will be needed 'for ever' even in the presence of Christ
himself. (John 14:3). The Spirit's abiding in the believer's person, 'the inner fountain
of life', belongs to the period between the ascension and the parousia (presence) of our
Lord, that is, within this present evil age'.
In John 1:31 the Spirit is said to be given to Jesus; in 20:22 to the ten apostles,
Thomas being absent; and in Acts 1:8 and 2:1-8, to the Jerusalem assembly. The seeming
contrast between John 20:22 and Acts 1:8 and 2:4 may be resolved by the phrase 'with
power' in Acts 1:8, there being no evidence of the power of the Spirit's presence prior to
In Matthew's gospel, which contains no promise of the Spirit's indwelling of the
believers, Jesus is stated to have pledge his own presence till the consummation of the
aeon. (Matt.28:20). As this presence is spiritual, not carnal, no difficulty arise in
linking this promise with those in John's account.
The sic passages in John (John 6:51.58; 8:51,52; 10:28; 11:26) which treat of 'eating
my flesh and drinking my blood', 'keeping my words', 'believing' and the like , and
consequently 'not tasting death', or 'living, unto or for the aeon', need only be read in
the light of their context (John 6:39,40,44 and 54) 'I will raise him up at the last day',
for the thought to appear that the promise of living and not dying applies to resurrection
life in the coming aeon. Those 'given me by the Father' (6:39) 'believers' (6:40) 'drawn
by the Father' (6:44) 'who feed on me' (6:54) and have died along with other mortals, and
are dependent upon being raised at the last day of this age to 'aeonian life'. (Luke
18:36) This is in complete harmony with the words of our Lord to Martha about resurrection
life 'at the last day'.
'He who believeth on me though he die, shall live, and all the living and believing
shall not in any wise die unto (or for) the aeon'. (John 11:26).
There are of course two classes of believers mentioned here,
(a) those who will have died previously to the resurrection which as we have already
noted Jesus said will mark the inauguration of 'the coming age' (Luke 25:34,35); and (b)
believers then living will not die. It should be particularly noticed that the context of
both John 11:26 and Luke 20:34,35 is that of future resurrection. It must be evident that
Martha's 'last day' is the end of this age' of Matt.13:39,40 and 49; 24:3 and 28:20, when
resurrection of believers will usher in "that aeon' as Jesus is recorded as saying in
Further this exegesis corresponds with Paul's declaration in I Thess.4:15-17.
"The Lord himself with a word of command, with a chief messenger's voice and with
God's trumpet shall descend from heaven and the dead in Christ shall be raised first;
thereupon we the living who are left over shall at the same time, together with them be
caught away in cloud's (anarthrous, not in the clouds') to meet the Lord in the air, and
thus evermore with the Lord we shall be'.
Thus the two classes of believers are by Paul, explicitly distinguished and related as
by our Lord in John 11:26; and both passages are in full accord with references to the
conclusion of this age in Matthew, (13:39,40,49; 24:3; and 28:20) to be followed by
aeonian life for believers in the age to follow. (Mark 10:30, Luke 18:30; 20:35, John
In John 12:34 is recorded the statement of the crowd. 'We have heard out of the law
that the Christ abideth 'unto or for the aeon'. As no specific O.T. reference is
mentioned, it is presented that one or more of the promises respecting David's seed was in
view, perhaps Psa.89:4 and subsequent verses. Here the Septuagint uses 'aion' to translate
'olam;' and the promise, 'thy throne I will build up generation after generation',
suggests a terrestrial dynasty, with the probability that infinite future time was not in
mind. Probably 'continuously;, 'permanently' or 'indefinitely' would express the idea.
On the other hand, if the clause, 'We have heard out of the law,' referred to Rabbinic
doctrine respecting the age to come, then the phrase 'into, unto, or for the aeon' may be
In Paul's use of the same expression in I Cor .8:13, 'In no wise will I eat flesh eis
ton aiona', the meaning appears simply to be 'not for the rest of my life' or 'not any
more'. Similarly in II Cor.9:9, in the quotation from Psa.112:9 regarding 'the man who
revereth Yahweh and generously helps the poor, whose righteousness standeth unto the
aeon', we may probably use 'all his life', 'permanently', or 'lastingly'.
From this study of the use of the singular 'aion', in various syntactical
relationships, the following conclusions may be drawn.
(a) With the prepositions 'from' and 'out of', 'aion' has the significance of 'past
time' or 'a bygone age or period'.
(b) The present age is clearly distinguished from a future age.
(c) In some case the concept expressed by 'permanently', 'indefinitely' or 'lastingly'
with the negatives 'not any more'. 'not at all', or 'never' seems appropriate.
(d) The singular is never applied to the Deity.
There is therefor no reason to suggest that it ever includes the idea of eternity
either as infinite time or timelessness.